• William Shakespeare's oldest surviving script advocated for the humane treatment of refugees. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
400 years since his death, William Shakespeare's words still have relevance today. His last surviving script shares some rather heartwarming views on the plight of refugees, an issue as close to the heart of modern Europe as it was Medieval.
Shami Sivasubramanian

22 Mar 2016 - 1:09 PM  UPDATED 22 Mar 2016 - 1:09 PM

The contents of William Shakespeare's last surviving script have recently been featured online by the British Library, and the playwright's words advocate for the compassionate treatment of new migrants and refugees seeking asylum.

The Bard's word appear to be pertinent, given the current migration crisis plaguing most of the world's major economies. Whilst many European nations have imposed varying levels of austerity at this time, Shakespeare's words pose an alternative view and encourage compassion and mercy towards these new migrants.

Have a listen to it performed here:

The piece was not written for a play, but as a revision of a work called 'The Book of Sir Thomas More'.  The passage describes a scene where Sir Thomas More (the 16th Century Lord High Chancellor of England and author of the famous political allegory 'Utopia') is addressing an angry mob of protesters in London.

The protester are vexed by the influx of "strangers" or refugees that have been allowed into the city by King Henry VIII. Here, Sir Thomas More implores them to show compassion and consider how they would feel if they were forced to flee their home and begin life in an unknown land for the sake of their safety.


“You’ll put down strangers,/ Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,/ And lead the majesty of law in lyam/ To slip him like a hound. Alas, alas! Say now the King/ As he is clement if th’offender mourn,/ Should so much come too short of your great trespass/ As but to banish you: whither would you go?/What country, by the nature of your error,/ Should give you harbour? Go you to France or Flanders,/ To any German province, Spain or Portugal,/ Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England:/ Why, you must needs be strangers.”

-William Shakespeare, The Book of Sir Thomas More, c1601-04.


William Shakespeare's last surviving script shares some rather heartwarming views on the plight of refugees. (The British Library)

Shakespeare wrote this piece of literature during a period of political and religion-fuelled upheaval across England and much of the Holy Roman Empire. That could explain why so many of the sentiments touched on within the prose resonant with the modern migration crisis.

The large scale exodus of refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East towards northern Europe, has been a pressing issue for Europe in particular.

The British Library also featured the script to commemorate the 400th year of Shakespeare's death.